Wednesday, September 7, 2022

SSW: Kate Wilhelm, Harlan Ellison, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Gordon Dickson, Edward Wellen, Arthur & Irwin Porges: FANTASTIC, April 1959, edited by Cele Goldsmith (Lalli)

The third in a series of posts about select set of late '50s issues of fantasy and related-fiction magazines: 

The first can be read here: Fantasy/Horror/SF fiction magazine issues from the 1950s fantastica "End of Summer": THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION April 1958 edited by "Anthony Boucher"; FANTASTIC April 1959 edited by Cele Goldsmith; FANTASTIC UNIVERSE April 1958 edited by Hans Stefan Santesson; TALES OF THE FRIGHTENED August 1957 edited by Lyle Kenyon Engle; SCIENCE FANTASY April 1958 edited by John Carnell (and INSIDE SF's F&SF/Mercury Press parody issue/September 1958, edited by Ron Smith, and MACABRE, Summer 1958, edited by Joseph Payne Brennan)

Not yet reviewed, though described in the first post's overview...and a more eye-catching cover than than the Fantastic sports!

The second, here: Short Story Wednesday: Kit Reed, Margaret St. Clair, William F. Nolan, Avram Davidson, Richard Wilson, and others: April 1958 fantasy (and related) stories from THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION and FANTASTIC UNIVERSE (part 2)

Can be read here.

The first thing one might note about the April 1959 issue of Fantastic, beyond the notional cover, is that the issue became Even More an all-star issue in time than it was upon release...Arthur Porges (usually without his brother) might be the most obscure of the professional writers assembled here, and he can be remembered for the more clever stories he saw published in fantasy, sf and crime fiction magazines, such as "$1.98" in F&SF in 1954 (Irwin presumably helped develop the gimmick in "A Touch of the Sun", as he never published his own fiction in magazines, though he did publish essays). Kate Wilhelm and Harlan Ellison went on to become major writers in several fields; Wilhelm's first published story, "The Pint-Sized Genie"  had been pulled out of the "slush pile" by Goldsmith during her assistant-editor days and was published in Fantastic, though she had already sold her notable story "The Mile-Long Spaceship" to Astounding SF, it would be published later; I remain somewhat amused that she thus limned small and large, fantasy and sf, in her earliest career; Ellison had, during Goldsmith's predecessor-editor Paul Fairman's term, been one of the writers with a contract to produce a certain amount of fiction each month for a flat fee, and that was that, making for a fair amount of on-the-job training. Edward Wellen was a consistently interesting writer of crime fiction and some speculative fiction (often with a criminous aspect as well), and while Jack Sharkey, who had his first published short story in the previous, March 1959, issue of Fantastic, never wrote too much of lasting value in fantastica, he did go on to become one of the most successful playwrights among those who provided mostly one-act plays for community theater and similar productions, published by Samuel French, Inc. Rog Phillips was, along with William P. McGivern, among the rather good writers who often provided the best copy as regulars in the Ray Palmer years of Fantastic's older siblings Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures. And, other cover Names Jack Williamson, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Gordon R. Dickson had already established their often influential careers, Williamson already one of the grand old writers in the fields, his work first appearing in the 1920s.

Another thing one might note is that while the previously reviewed F&SF and Fantastic Universe 4/58 issues were toward the end of their editors' runs (several issues before Anthony Boucher turned over the magazine to Robert P. Mills, barely more than twice as many issues before FU was abruptly folded in 1960, having published only the first installment of Fredric Brown's novel The Mind Thing), this was only the fifth issue Cele Goldsmith served as editor of...though throughout her run on Fantastic and Amazing, "editorial director" Norman Lobsenz wrote the editorials and blurbs for the magazines (sexism and ageism will out, particularly in the latter '50s and early '60s). Previously, I wondered if Paul Fairman's departure, and the end of  his quota system of gathering staff stories, led to a sudden shortage of fiction and a related dearth of interior illustration, and this issue suggests that might well've been the case...a largish number of Coming Soon stories from major writers mentioned in a house ad in this issue are in fact included in this issue.

The Wilhelm and Ellison stories share a certain sense of their writers still trying to refine their approaches. Ellison's "The Abnormals" ("The Discarded" being his preferred title) has a reasonably good sense of propulsion and demonstrates his concern for outsiders and enjoyment of flashy grotesqueries. It features a fairly easy-to-anticipate twist in the plot. Wilhelm's "The Ecstasy of It" demonstrates her interest from the beginning of her career in grounding her stories in day-to-day realities for her characters, notably in this case an insecure torch singer and a philosophical pianist traveling with a small press corps to interact with a first Mars colony, somewhat improbably all-male, and what befalls them. The title refers mostly to what appears to be an illness that strikes several of the characters in the colony, leaving them temporarily unwilling to do anything but enjoy their sudden esthetic appreciation for things generally. Thus also an early example of Wilhelm's fascination with diseases and similar infections that can leave at least some of the afflicted better off than previously. This, and a consistent general engagement with science that is often expressed in how it affects specific individuals, which will also recur in her work (including some of her crime fiction, such as the impressive Death Qualified).

Fantastic was making one of its occasional moves toward being a Mostly fantasy-fiction magazine at this point (and Norman Lobsenz's typically breezy, shallow editorial is about his mulling what kind of classic monster he would prefer to be, between a ghoul, a vampire or a werewolf, settling on the last), and most of the shorter stories are Goldsmith's favorite sort of fantasy, mildly surreal contemporary fantasy...probably part of he reason her magazines were home to some early "new wave" fiction (though she was also a champion of Fritz Leiber's work, including his high fantasy and more traditional horror, among no few others, in years to come, as well as numbering Ursula K. Le Guin and Thomas M. Disch among her many '60s"discoveries"). Edward Wellen's "Hear a Pin Drop" involves a prisoner seeking to retain his sanity in the face of unceasing solitary confinement and darkness, and how things go very oddly; Gordon Dickson's "After the Funeral" is a horror story involving a mixture of ESP research and a haunting; Marion Zimmer Bradley's "A Dozen of Everything" is a mildly amusing deal-with-djinn tale, fairly typical of her lighter-mode stories, and with just enough twist at the end to not be wholly predictable. While the Porges brothers' story is one of the sf "problem stories" Arthur Porges loved to write, along with the not-dissimilar "locked room"/impossible crimes kinds of mysteries he also published copiously, this one a little less dependent on a high-school physics class gimmick than most problem stories, if also acceptably far-fetched and slightly more devoted than usual to fleshing out its caricature a sense, it's barely sf, since it could conceivably happen and would be arguably possible with the technology of the time, albeit it's unlikely. I shall catch up with the balance of stories in the three issues so far, including the brilliant Leiber and famous Brian Aldiss story in the F&SF, and the other magazines' contents, Soon!

for more of this week's Short Story Wednesday entries, 


TracyK said...

I will comment here similarly to my comment at George's post. I have read more science fiction, not sure how I will like fantasy short stories. I have to look around through the anthologies or collections I have and see what I have in the way of fantasy. Regardless, I am sure I would like a fair amount of these stories if I had access to them.

And I enjoyed the information on authors in this issue who were newer to publishing and not as established and well-known as they would become.

Todd Mason said...

Two thoughts here, Tracy--there are few writers who have written science fiction who haven't also written some fantasy, and certainly rather few collections of short stories from those writers that don't mix the two forms. All these magazines so far reviewed--F&SF, FANTASTIC UNIVERSE and FANTASTIC--have during their runs made it very clear they were offering both sf and fantasy (and their definitions of fantasy including horror)--this also true of SCIENCE FANTASY...and, as many such eclectic magazines have done through the years, they would occasionally slip in story that had no real sf or fantasy content that the editors thought or hoped the readers would like...among the examples that come to mind are Shirley Jackson's "One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts" in F&SF, one of the handful of stories by her they published in Anthony Boucher's years, Edward Wellen's (oddly enough) novella or short novel GOLDBRICK in F&SF in 1978, which was almost Simon-pure suspense story with no real speculative elements (but Wellen was a long-time contributor to F&SF and its occasional sibling VENTURE SCIENCE FICTION, and crime-fiction novellas were hard to place then as now) and Bill Pronzini and Barry Malzberg's very funny "Another Burnt-Out Case" in FANTASTIC in 1978...a bit absurdist, but not fantasy nor sf at all.

And you do have access to them, at the "the issues can be read here" links, where the issues are archived online and the images of the pages can be blown up to readability on most computer screens.

And, thanks! I'm glad these posts are useful and, I hope, not too hard to read with my overpacked sentences and the like!